05/06/1996 at 01:00 AM EDT
The lifeguards who patrol the beaches in and around San Diego have credentials that are more impressive than their suntans. Allison Terry, 22 (left), a former high school swimming champion, is vastly outnumbered on her beat by men, but, she says, "I can outswim many of them, and they know it." John Sandmeyer, 31 (center), who saved his first life at age 14, grouses when friends ask him his career plans: "This is a real job." South African-born Deon Lourens, 29 (right), joined a junior lifesaving program at age 9. "We're not just a bunch of hunks who pick up girls all the time," insists the married father of a 4-year-old. After his first rescue, he says, "I felt like a hero. It was-amazing."
She earned her degree in marketing and business three years ago, but Jennifer Keefe, 24, can't think of anything she would rather do than watch over the waters at New Jersey's Sea Isle City. "I love the athleticism," she says. What she hates is the beach bimbo stereotype. "You run by on a rescue and people are screaming 'Baywatch' or 'Pamela,' " she reports. "It's a little degrading."
Lifeguarding at Washington's trendy Tenley Sport and Health Club enables Todd Robinson to work toward his master's degree in U.S. history at American University. But the 22-year-old is quick to point out that the job has its downside. "I do stuff they don't have to do on TV," he says, "like cleaning and vacuuming the pool and checking for safe chemical levels."
With deep-blue eyes and Barbie-doll hair, Melissa Koch, 17, makes waves of her own on the beach in Ocean City, N.J. Still, the high school senior takes lifeguarding seriously: "It's not a pretty-girl thing."
Though deemed too muscular to double for Ahnuld in True Lies, Lee Apperson, 37, has been terminating dangerous situations at Daytona Beach for 20 years. Says the award-winning bodybuilder and fitness model: "I can be a beach bum and get paid for it."
As a kid, Eddie Lee says his swimming was shaky ("I failed the pollywog program four times because I just could not float"), but at 24, the accomplished classical pianist and violinist rules the pool at Atlanta's Dynamo Swim Center. "A lifeguard's real duty is preventing accidents," he says. "If a lifeguard has 100 saves, I'd worry."
Because most lifeguards are male, "the image is you have to be huge to save people," says Malibu's Molly Carter, 24 (right). "You just have to be a strong swimmer and know what to do." But muscles can open doors. Guard Sean Graham, 27 (center), took up acting after a beach encounter with a casting agent and has even appeared on Baywatch as a thug on Rollerblades. Craig Hummer, 30 (left), the top-ranked U.S. lifeguard since 1990, mixes modeling with his guard duties at Venice Beach, Calif. He also often plays guide for tourists there. The No. 1 question: "Where's Baywatch filmed?"
It was Baywatch that inspired Sheri Lynn Spooner, 19, to choose the red lifeguard suits at the Farmington (Tenn.) Country Club pool, but the University of Memphis sophomore notes that her tanks are "not nearly as high-cut as the ones on the show." Spooner can't wait for swim season. Main reason? "I like being in the sun."